News in November 2007
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2007-12-02

General

BACKGROUND PAPER FOR THE WORLD DEVELOPMENT REPORT 2008
2008 Agricultural Biotechnology Transgenics in Agriculture and their Implications for Developing Countries
Eija Pehu and Catherine Ragasa, World Bank (independent report), Sept. 19, 2007
pdf document also in pdf document

One assessment indicates that the adoption of Bt cotton could provide even larger proportionate gains to farmers and national welfare (especially in West Africa) than a successful campaign under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Development Agenda to reduce or remove cotton subsidies and import tariffs globally.

The most extensive ex post studies8 of transgenic crop adoption in developing countries have been conducted for Bt cotton in Argentina, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa. National averages show that cotton yields increased from 11 to 64 percent. An associated reduction in pest management costs of 42 to 67 percent has been recorded. These gains are partially offset by higher seed costs: Seed costs increased by 89 percent in South Africa, by three times in India, and by six times in Argentina (table 1). Yet increased yields and reduced pesticide costs were enough to compensate for the higher seed costs. Farmers adopting Bt cotton in Mexico saw an average increase in profits of 12 percent; profits tripled for South African adopters and quadrupled for Chinese adopters. Farmers' yields were not only higher but more stable, meaning that the new varieties offered a form of insurance in seasons when insect pests were more numerous.

In the peer-reviewed literature, the lack of locally adapted Bt cotton varieties was considered the main reason for the poor performance of Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh. This "negative germplasm effect"15 is frequently expected when local varieties are better adapted to local biotic and abiotic stresses than new varieties (in this case, the hybrids carrying the Bt gene). According to farmers surveyed in Andhra Pradesh, one of the local stresses that affected cotton production was severe drought. A cotton plant's performance under drought is not affected by the Bt gene but by other elements in the plant's genetic makeup, and the three Bt hybrids approved for use in 2004 were not genetically suited to endure extreme drought.

Qaim and others (2006) stressed that, aside from the biophysical environment, the regulatory environment can influence the gains from using transgenic versus conventional varieties. If it takes a long time to register Bt hybrids (and thus make them available to farmers), and newer conventionally bred hybrids with higher yields become available during that period, the adoption of the conventional varieties will reduce the comparative gains from the Bt varieties. This was the case in India.

For example, one hybrid (Bunny) used by a number of conventional cotton growers surveyed by Qaim and others (2006) showed a sizeable yield advantage and had significant quality and price advantages over other (Bt and non-Bt) varieties. An econometric analysis by Qaim and others (2006) showed that net Bt yield gain is 59 percent higher than non-Bt varieties when controlling for this "Bunny effect." Such differences in yield gain, quality, and output price were mistakenly attributed to the Bt gene itself by some observers (for example, Shiva and Jafri 2003).

The economic evidence available to date does not support the widely held perception that transgenic crops benefit only large-scale farmers; on the contrary, it appears to indicate that the technology can be favorable for poor, small-scale producers. Nor does the available evidence support fears that multinational biotechnology firms are capturing all of the economic value created by transgenic crops. Pray and Huang (2003) analyzed the distribution of Bt cotton benefits in China by farm size and found that Bt cotton decidedly favored the poor. The smallest farms (less than 0.47 hectares) experienced the largest yield gains, and mid-size farms (0.47-1.0 hectares) had the largest reduction in total costs because of reduced pesticide use. In terms of net income, the gains for the two smaller farm-size categories were more than twice those realized on the largest farms (those larger than 1.0 hectare).

A growing body of published work documents the environmental benefits of transgenics. A consistent reduction in pesticide use has been documented in the USA, Australia, and some developing countries (Argentina, India, China, South Africa, and Mexico) (table 1). As a result, farm workers and water supplies are protected from pesticides.30 The cumulative reduction in pesticides from 1996 to 2004 was estimated at 172,500 tons of active ingredient. This is the equivalent of a 14 percent reduction in the associated environmental impact of pesticide use on these crops, as measured by the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) - a composite measure based on the various factors contributing to the net environmental impact of an individual active ingredient.

Many of these technologies promise substantial benefits to poor producers and consumers. Most notable are traits for the world's major food staple, rice, including enhanced vitamin-A content (Golden Rice), tolerance to saline and flooded conditions, and insect resistance. Advanced field testing of Bt rice in China shows higher yields and an 80 percent reduction in pesticide use.38 The estimated health benefits of Golden Rice are large, since rice is the staple of many poor people who suffer from vitamin A deficiency. In India alone, 200,000 to 1.4 million life-years39 could be saved each year through widespread consumption of Golden Rice - which would be more cost-effective than current programs providing vitamin A supplements.

Despite meager public sector support relative to the level of private investment, many transgenic crops are already in the public research pipeline in developing countries. A study of 15 developing countries found that the public research pipeline for transgenic food crops included 201 genetic transformation events in 45 different crops.52 In addition, the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, a public-private research partnership, has projects on staples such as bananas, rice, sorghum, and cassava for increased levels of key micronutrients. Numerous R&D efforts are underway for livestock and fish, especially for improved disease resistance (box 2).

Although many proponents have called for more public sector involvement in breeding transgenic varieties for the developing world, the costs of such R&D dwarf the research budgets of most agricultural universities or even government research institutes. Cost considerations reinforce the need for countries to consider accepting products approved overseas and data generated internationally when reviewing applications for approval, as this is one way to limit costs.

OECD - HARMONISATION OF REGULATORY OVERSIGHT IN BIOTECHNOLOGY SAFETY OF NOVEL FOODS AND FEEDS

The main focus of OECD’s Task Force for the Safety of Novel Foods and Feeds addresses risk/safety assessment issues, mainly related to the products of modern biotechnology. For the most part, therefore, the work is focused on the safety of foods and feeds derived from transgenic crops. This improves mutual understanding amongst countries, increases the efficiency of the risk/safety assessment process and avoids duplication of effort, while reducing barriers to trade.

To date, eleven consensus documents addressing major crops have been completed and published on: low Erucic Acid Rapeseed (Canola); Soybean; Sugar Beet; Potatoes; Maize; Bread Wheat; Rice; Cotton; Barley; Alfalfa and other Temperate Forage Legumes; and Sunflower. In addition, the Task Force recently published the first consensus document on a mushroom (Agaricus bisporus), using the same structure as in the crop plant documents. The Task Force also develops documents on other important topics in safety assessment. For example, it published a document on ‘Considerations for the Safety Assessment of Animal Feedstuffs Derived from Genetically Modified Plants’, which is complementary to the other consensus documents. In addition, a consensus document on Tomato will soon be completed; and three documents are being prepared on Papaya, Cassava, and Sweet Potato.

To date, non members participation has been possible through the Global Forum on the Knowledge-based Economy (GFKE) under the auspices of OECD’s Centre for Co-operation with non-members.

Finally, the Task Force also involves the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the United Nations (U.N.) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO); and the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to OECD (BIAC).

Future events:

• 14th Meeting of the Meeting of the Task Force for the Safety of Novel Foods and Feeds, Paris, 8-10 April 2008.
Recent Publications:

.. Consensus Document on Compositional Considerations for New Varieties of the Cultivated Mushroom Agaricus bisporus: Key Food and Feed Nutrients, Anti-Nutrients and Toxicants

.. Consensus Document on Compositional Considerations for New Varieties of the Sunflower: Key Food and Feed Nutrients, Anti-Nutrients and Toxicants

Upcoming Publications:

.. Consensus Document on Compositional Considerations for New Varieties of Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum): Key Food and Feed Nutrients, Anti-Nutrients and Toxicants

.. Brochure on the OECD work on the risk/safety assessment of modern biotechnology Future events:

FAO REPORT ON THE STATE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 2007
ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a1200e/a1200e00.pdf (240 pages)
Sections: Paying farmers for environmental services; World and regional review; A longer-term perspective; Statistical annex; Tables; Boxes; Figures.

FAO published A REVIEW OF THE CURRENT STATE OF BIOENERGY DEVELOPMENT IN G8 +5 COUNTRIES
see http://www.fao.org/newsroom/common/ecg/1000702/en/GBEPReport.pdf (292 pages).

Executive Summary

Bioenergy sits at the intersection of three of the world’s great challenges - energy security, climate change, and poverty reduction - and has received an enormous amount of attention in the past few years. Joint work on these issues is vital considering that together, the G8 +5 Countries account for about 55 percent of the world’s population, 70+ percent of global GDP, and about 72 percent of world energy-related and industry CO2 emissions (excluding deforestation).

Bioenergy statistics are inadequate and not up to date. They are essential to understand the dynamics of bioenergy systems; evaluating the role played by different types of biofuels in the energy sector and supply sources; assessing the share of biomass used (directly and indirectly) for energy purposes; assessing the role of biofuel in GHG inventories; and formulating sound policies.

According to the best data available, bioenergy provides about 10 percent of the world’s total primary energy supply (47.2 EJ of bioenergy out of a total of 479 EJ in 2005, i.e. 9.85 percent). Most of this is for use in the residential sector (for heating and cooking) and is produced locally. In 2005 bioenergy represented 78 percent of all renewable energy produced.

A full 97 percent of biofuels are made of solid biomass, 71 percent of which used in the residential sector. Biomass is also used to generate gaseous and liquid fuels, and growth in demand for the latter has been significant over the last ten years. Biomass provides a relatively small amount of the total primary energy supply (TPES) of the G8 Countries (1-4 percent). By contrast, bioenergy is a significant part of the energy supply in the +5 Countries representing from 5-27 percent of TPES. China with its 9000 PJ/yr is the largest user of biomass as a source of energy, followed by India (6000 PJ/yr), USA 2300 PJ/yr, and Brazil (2000 PJ/yr), while bioenergy’s contribution in Canada, France and Germany is around 450 PJ/yr.

The bioenergy share in India, China and Mexico is decreasing, mostly as traditional biomass is substituted by kerosene and LPG. However the use of solid biomass for electricity production is important, especially from pulp and paper plants. Bioenergy’s share in total energy consumption is increasing in the G8 Countries especially Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

There are four key factors driving interest in bioenergy: rising prices for fossil fuels, in particular oil prices; energy security; climate change; and rural development. Bioenergy markets are largely policy dependent in most of the world, as the production of biofuels in most countries is not at this point competitive with fossil fuels. Nearly all countries reported that energy security and climate change are the most important drivers of their bioenergy development activities.

Overall there are few differences between the policy objectives of G8 Countries and the +5 Countries. Rural development is more central to the +5 Countries’ focus on bioenergy development, and this is often aligned with a poverty alleviation agenda.

Feed-in tariffs, taxes, guaranteed markets (i.e. renewable energy and fuel mandates, and preferential purchasing), compulsory grid connections, other direct supports (i.e. grants, loan guarantees, subsidies, construction incentives, etc.), and R,D&D are the principal policy mechanisms being deployed by the G8 +5 Countries to encourage bioenergy development.

Bioenergy markets are further influenced by general energy, agriculture and forestry, climate change, and environmental policies.

Feed-in tariffs are currently the world’s most widespread national renewable energy policy and are in use in over half of the G8 +5 Countries. They are often crafted for renewable energy generally but are sometimes directed at bioenergy specifically. The feed-in tariff is the policy tool that has been most effective in stimulating renewable energy markets, however feed-in tariffs need to be differentiated by technology and biomass treated individually, in order to specifically boost bioenergy.

A variety of tax incentives and penalties are used by governments to foster bioenergy development and they are one of the most widely used support instruments. Taxes affect the cost-competitiveness of bioenergy vs. substitutes and therefore bioenergy viability in the marketplace.

National targets and public incentive systems have been effectively used in many countries, in particular for liquid biofuels for transport. Among the G8 +5 Countries, only Russia has not created a transport biofuel target. Voluntary quota systems or targets are common for biomass energy for heat, power and transport fuels in the G8 Countries, however, blending mandates enforceable via legal mechanisms are becoming increasingly utilized. Blending targets are less established in the +5 Countries but they are under discussion or awaiting approval. Preferential purchasing by governments can also be a powerful tool when effectively implemented. In policies relating to biofuels for transport, there is a trend towards policies such as blending mandates which don’t require direct government funding, although publicly financed support remains significant.

Most countries use some form of direct loans or grants. The G8 +5 Governments are conducting research and development in their own laboratories and institutes and many are supporting public private partnerships and various forms of demonstration projects. Direct supports and R,D&D are being used in a number of G8 Countries to accelerate the commercial development of second generation biofuels for transportation.

A few governments are moving towards performance focused policies. Rather than mandate an amount of fuel to be consumed, these governments are mandating the amount of GHG reductions required. This strategy to harness market forces is rapidly gaining interest in Kyoto signatory countries that are looking for the most cost-effective GHG emission strategies.

There is a growing recognition that not all biofuels are “green.” New schemes are under way to promote sustainability as well as link funding to sustainability. The European Union and some of its member states are working toward sustainability standards to attach to mandatory targets. Brazil has created its “social seal” and has tied it to its blending mandates.

The importance of developing bioenergy in a sustainable manner is universally recognized, yet no international sustainability assurance system exists for biofuels or bioenergy more broadly. Sustainability requirements will eventually need to be agreed upon internationally, applied locally and to all biomass regardless of end use, if leakage effects or impact shifting is to be avoided.

There is a move towards harmonization of technical standards regionally and internationally. This is vital for quality assurance, equipment compatibility, and the facilitation of trade. Historically, biomass and biofuel trade flows have been limited, as most of the production has been for domestic consumption. However, in the coming years, international trade in biofuels and feedstocks is expected to escalate rapidly to satisfy increasing worldwide demand.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) does not currently have a trade regime specific to biofuels. International trade in biofuels falls, therefore, under the rules of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1994). In addition to the WTO, several regional and bilateral trade agreements, mostly involving the United States and the EU, currently regulate biofuels trade.

International trade in biofuels and related feedstocks may provide win-win opportunities for some countries: for several developed countries imports are a necessary precondition for meeting the self-imposed blending targets; for several developing countries producing and exporting biofuels may provide new business opportunities and new end-markets for their agricultural products. For small and medium-sized developing countries, export markets may be necessary to initiate their industries, however, tariffs and other barriers are currently restricting trade.
Government policies play a key role in influencing investment in bioenergy. When carefully balanced with environmental and social conditions, such policies will also determine the long-term viability of this important emerging opportunity.

UN officially launched 2008 as a year of potato.
see http://www.potato2008.org/en/index.html.
In 2006 315 millions tons were harvested.

Books & Articles

The Artificial and the Natural: An Evolving Polarity
Edited by Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and William R. Newman MIT Press: 2007. 331 pp. $40

Book reviewed:

Philip Ball, Nature (book review), Nature 450, 614 (29 November 2007) | doi:10.1038/450614a, Nov. 29, 2007 http://www.nature.com

The topic of this book  -  how boundaries are drawn between the natural and the synthetic  -  has received too little serious attention, both in science and in society. Chemists are justifiably touchy about descriptions of commercial products as 'chemical-free', but the usual response, which is to lament media or public ignorance, fails to recognize the complex history and sociology that lies behind preconceptions about chemical artefacts. The issue is much broader, however, touching on areas ranging from stem-cell therapy and assisted conception to biomimetic engineering, synthetic biology, machine intelligence and ecosystem management.

Plant Breeding and Biotechnology - Societal Context and the Future of Agriculture
Denis J. Murphy, University of Glamorgan, United Kingdom, Sept. 2007, Cambridge University Press http://www.seedquest.com/forum/m/MurphyDenis/plantbreeding/default.htm
Hardback ISBN-13: 9780521823890 Paperback ISBN-13: 9780521530880

A word from the author: In my recent book, Plant Breeding and Biotechnology: Societal Context and the Future of Agriculture, I attempt to analyze how the scientific and social structures that underpin crop science have evolved over the past couple of centuries. In particular I was keen to understand the peculiar recent phenomenon of agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech) and the immense controversies that it has spawned. Unlike previous and arguably equally revolutionary developments in crop science, from hybrid varieties to the Green Revolution, agbiotech has unleashed an unparalleled storm of public disquiet and scientific dispute that has yet to be fully resolved.

Nutritional and Safety Assessments of Foods and Feeds Nutritionally Improved through Biotechnology: Case Studies: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF A TASK FORCE REPORT BY THE INTERNATIONAL LIFE SCIENCES INSTITUTE, WASHINGTON, D.C.
http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2007.00579.x

These case studies examine the principles and recommendations published by the Intl. Life Sciences Inst. (ILSI) in 2004 for the safety and nutritional assessment of foods and feeds derived from nutritionally improved crops (ILSI 2004). One overarching conclusion that spans all 5 case studies is that the comparative safety assessment process is a valid approach. Such a process has been endorsed by many publications and organizations, including the 2004 ILSI publication. The type and extent of data that are appropriate for a scientifically sound comparative safety assessment are presented on a case-by-case basis in a manner that takes into account scientific results published since the 2004 ILSI report. This report will appear in the January issue of Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.

Towards Future Challenges of Agricultural Research in Europe
Charlemagne Building - Brussels, 26-27 June 2007
- Reactions on the conference available

Public engagement in emerging science and technology
Pierre-Benoit Joly  & Arie Rip, Nature (450, 174), Nov. 8, 2007
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v450/n7167/full/450174a.html

Governments and research institutions generally fail to respond to the outcomes of public engagement exercises, perhaps because the outcomes are often too late and too vague on concrete strategies to move forward. We've learnt that it is better to engage the public 'midstream', at a point in the research process when it is possible to incorporate their opinions into research orientation and policy-making.

The French National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA) used such an approach to focus on research into and field trials of genetically modified vines. In 2001, INRA had to decide whether to run field trials of a genetically modified vine that is potentially resistant to a disease-causing virus. INRA's research director for plant sciences, Guy Riba, voiced the opinion of most researchers: "Surely scientists have a responsibility to carry out these experiments with a view to the future, even in the face of current public opposition?"

INRA met strong opposition to the trials because of the cultural significance of wine in France. A group of wine producers, including some prestigious châteaux, had signed a petition in June 2000 calling for a moratorium on the use of genetic modification techniques in wine production, and joined forces to create the non-governmental organization Terre et Vin du Monde (Land and Wine of the World).

In response, INRA asked a group of social scientists who specialize in science and technology studies to organize a public consultation, in which we took leading roles. Our goal was to produce a public report to be taken into account in decision-making at INRA Our working group comprised 14 people, including members of the public, wine growers and researchers. It had seven days of intensive discussions over a six-month period in 2002. The set of recommendations it produced was made freely available on the web. The INRA directorate prepared a public response explaining the decisions it intended to make and how these would accommodate the group's recommendations.

The experiment was highly productive. It yielded some unexpected recommendations that could be worked into the decision-making process. Some of the participants opposed the field trial at all costs, but most supported it under strict conditions, including: that INRA guaranteed that the trials would be used only for research, not for commercial purposes; that a local committee would be in charge of monitoring the experiment; and that INRA would commit to exploring alternative ways to fight viruses. Appropriately, it was not a smooth process, either during deliberation within the group, or in implementing the agreement.

Three important lessons emerged from the exercise. First, midstream engagement is not a recipe for wide social agreement and acceptance. Rather, it improves the robustness of decisions by taking into account the diversity of world views and interests. Second, it stimulates institutional learning. Third, the process can produce research and development options not previously considered. This is of particular value if directors of public research are truly committed to generating beneficial sociotechnical innovation.

Events

1st GLOBAL CONFERENCE ON GMO ANALYSIS
Villa Erba, Como, Italy June 2008,

We have the great pleasure to inform you about the launch of registrations as well as of the call for posters and oral presentations, which are no on line on the official web site of the Conference: http://gmoglobalconference.jrc.it

BioEthics Conference - Brussels, December 4th 2007
in partnership with biotechnology associations from the Member States, Inserm and EuropaBio.

Present your Company at BioSquare 2008!
EuropaBio is a proud supporter of BioSquare since its inception in 2001. We are pleased to announce EuropaBio is continuing this support in 2008.
http://www.biosquare.com/registration-regular.html

4th European Bioremediation Conference

3-6 September 2008
Chania - Crete - Greece

The 4th European Bioremediation Conference, is organized by the Technical University of Crete, the University of Bologna and the University of Sheffield. The conference is aiming to bring together scientists, engineers and other environmental professionals to present their findings and discuss future trends, directions and new challenges for the restoration of contaminated sites and marine environments.

The presentations are expected to focus on the technological advances of bioremediation treatment processes for all types of media (air, soil, sediment, surface water, groundwater and industrial wastewater) contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons, chlorinated and other recalcitrant compounds, as well as on techniques for the microbiological, genetic and ecotoxicological monitoring of such processes. Innovative and low cost solutions through an integrated technological approach are also invited.

More information is available at the conference website:  http://www.bioremediation.enveng.tuc.gr

biotechfruit2008 - First International Symposium on Biotechnology of Fruit Species will be held September 1-5, 2008 in Dresden, Germany, under the auspices of the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS).
ISHS Commission Biotechnology and Molecular Biology. See http://www.biotechfruit2008.bafz.de/index.htm

17-19 September: BIOSPAIN 2008, Granada, Spain
Organization of BioSpain is led by ASEBIO. The event will be divided to five workshops: Scientific Seasons, International Conferences, Investment Forum, Partnering Activities and Trade Fair. Granada has been selected as a new core of Biotech Development in Spain.

Europe - EU

EU given extra time to end GMO bans
Laura Crowley, Food Navigator, Nov. 23, 2007
http://www.foodnavigator.com/news/ng.asp?n=81590&m=1FNEN23&c=kzldommuocyjajp

The European Union yesterday won a two month extension for ending its ban on imports of genetically modified (GMO) foods. EU could not meet the WTO's original deadline of 21 November 2007. Peter Power, EU spokesman for trade, confirmed to FoodNavigator.com that a negotiation has been made extending the ban, with a new deadline set as 11 January 2008. However, he was unable to comment on the reasons for requesting the extension, and what developments will be made before meeting new deadline.

The extension means the EU has more time to reach conclusions over those member states implementing their own GMO bans and will avoid disciplinary action for the moment. At present, EU biotech policy involves some five or six departments of the executive European Commission, who can often be at odds. "This authorisation process of GMOs is highly unsatisfactory and worrying, it cannot stay like this," German Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer told reporters on arriving for a meeting of EU farm ministers. "One commissioner says it's okay and another says it's not. (It's not acceptable) that we politicians decide according to a majority and current mood. This is not how we can deal with it."

French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier echoed Seehofer's comments, saying time might be needed to review the process. "There is a very high public sensitivity (over GMOs), a lot of fears," he said. "And we don't want to limit imports." "We have to take time to put procedures into place that can't be challenged," he told reporters. "I back my German colleague that we have to take time at European level."

An internal study published by Commission agriculture experts in June said the EU took a minimum of 2.5 years, and often much longer, to complete new GMO authorisations compared with an average of 15 months in the United States. The other main issue is that since EU law does not give a tolerance threshold for the accidental presence of unauthorised GMOs that have been approved in exporter countries, trade flows can be disrupted if an EU-bound cargo is found to contain them.

"It is obvious that the problems of asynchronous approvals will be increasing and we will face huge problems in the agricultural sector," EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told a news conference. "To postpone any new approvals will have dramatic consequences. The production of meat will move out of Europe and then we will have to import meat (from animals that are) fed with GMO products. So we will be eating it anyway," she said.

European Commission authorises 3 GM maizes and 1 GM sugar beet

On October 24th, the European Commission approved four GM products (GM Maizes 1507xNK603; NK603 x MON810; and 59122 Herculex RW and GM sugar beet (H7-1)) for feed and food use and for import and processing.  The last product to have been approved before this under the new Commission for food and feed use and import was GM Maize 1507 in March 2006.

EU decision on Agrochemicals will destroy Irish farmers, says ASA
FreshPlaza.com, Oct. 31, 2007
http://www.freshplaza.com/news_detail.asp?id=10248

The Agricultural Science Association (ASA) has slammed last week's decision by the European Parliament on the regulation of plant protection products. ASA president, Gerry Scully, said the decision could result in the banning of up to 60pc of the top 10 plant protection products, leading to devastating consequences for yields and income in tillage farming. Vegetable and grass production would also seriously suffer, he said, adding: "The European Parliament has ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence on the safety of plant protection products.

"As well as seriously restricting the use of long-established and proven-safe products, the decision would also severely restrict the development and use of new products.

"Unless the European Parliament decision is amended by the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers, the ability of Irish and EU farmers to produce sufficient quantities of safe, quality food will be dramatically curtailed," he concluded.
Stressing Ireland's unique vulnerability to wet weather fungal diseases such as potato blight and septoria in cereals, Gerry Scully said arbitrary restrictions on the use of scientifically proven products would have much greater implications for yields, quality, incomes and employment in Ireland.

"If the Parliament decision was reflected in EU legislation, the end result would be an increase in imports of food that is not produced to the same rigorous standards as in the EU. With world food stocks at their lowest level in decades, the cost of food would also increase," he said.

Commissioner Potočnik makes his first official visit to Chile and Brazil

European Science and Research Commissioner, Janez Potočnik, is making his first official visit to Brazil (24-26 October) and Chile (27-30 October). The visit is an opportunity to demonstrate the EU's commitment to strengthening S&T links with South America and to building solid research partnerships to combat global challenges.

"Universities must contribute to enhancing Europe's innovative performance" - the Policy Brief Nr. 2 from the report on "Universities and Public Research Organisations in the ERA", is now available

Europeans more "green conscious” than Americans

A new survey has revealed that Europeans are 50 percent more likely to buy environmentally-friendly products than Americans, from solar panels to organic foods and sustainable wood to toiletries and household products.

EU researchers earn less than their counterparts in the US, Australia, Japan and India

A study on researchers' salaries carried out for the European Commission shows that the average salary for EU researchers is almost €23000 less than the average in the US, and also below average salaries in Australia, India and Japan.

Europe

Italy suppressed the results of field tests
Laura Crowley, Food Navigator, Nov. 16, 2007
http://www.foodnavigator.com/news/ng.asp?n=81414-inran-gm-crops-fumonisins-monsanto

Accusations have flown in Italy this week over the government's alleged suppression of field trial results suggesting the benefits of two Monsanto Bt maize varieties. Field trials were conducted on land owned by the University of Milan to determine the benefits of GM crops and the possible dangers they pose to consumers.

The outcome showed that, as well as resisting the corn borer pest without the use of pesticides, the P67 and Elgina maize varieties helped reduce the content fumonisin toxins, say the scientists. But the results of the trials were never formally published, spurring scientists to accuse the government of suppressing the information because of its anti-GMO stance.

Meanwhile, the state-run National Institute for Research of Food and Nutrition (INRAN) today issued a statement saying it had not actually received the results as claimed. INRAN added that it has actually conducted its own analysis, which goes further than the original results, and that it now deems suitable for publication.

Seehofer criticizes German farmers' union
Mark Inglin, Checkbiotech, Oct. 30, 2007
www.checkbiotech.org/green_News_Genetics.aspx?infoId=16012

The Federal Minister for the Interior for Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Horst Seehofer, considers arguments by the farmers' union opposing the cultivation of genetically modified plants to be "an excuse." In an interview with the weekly newspaper, "Das Parlament" (October 22, 2007 publication), the CSU politician said, "The farmers' union contends that it cannot recommend genetic engineering because we have not relaxed the liability law."

In fact, other motives were at issue. The farmers' union should "be honest enough to say that we don't recommend it because the vast majority of farmers do not want it." The indirect demand by the union to relax the liability law would, in Seehofer's view, "have a disadvantageous effect on farmers" because farmers who do not want to have anything to do with genetic engineering would have to struggle much harder with the consequences of mixing conventional plants with genetically modified material. "That is why I do not understand the argument at all," Seehofer commented.

With regard to the labeling of foods as is currently being discussed, Seehofer is promoting uniform labeling of foods to include the most important nutritional values "so that the public can gain sound, simple information about how much sugar, or how much fatty acids and so on are contained in a food." The so-called go-or-no-go type of labeling that, among others, is being promoted by Renate Kuenast (former minister, Grün Party) is "too simple."

In turn, in a discussion with "Das Parlament," Kuenast characterized Seehofer's decision in favor of voluntary labeling of foods by industry as "blatantly wrong." Everyone must be able to distinguish between basic nutrition and candy at first glance, which is what the go-or-no-go type of labeling achieves, and which must be obligatory. Voluntary measures have "led to absolutely nothing so far." Such measures have been "judged as failures," according to Kuenst.

Yalta Declaration - Agricultural Biotechnology to Serve Social and Economic Development through Global Cooperation
Black Sea Biotechnology Association (Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine), May 10, 2006
http://www.bsbanet.org/doc/kucha/yalta_declaration_2006.php?ln=en

Recognising that innovation has for centuries led to advances in human well-being and economic and social development; Noting that innovation in ag-biotechnology in particular is a potentially significant driver of sustainable economic growth, improved food security, human health, environmental safety, and social well-being, and will also be a crucial element in any future bio-based economy; Therefore,

bulletWe express our strong support for the use of ag-biotechnology as an integral component in our countries` strategies to continue to provide safe, healthy, and nutritious foods, and practices that lead to a more sustainable and economically viable agriculture and socio-economic bene-fits.
bulletWe call for increased public and private investments in ag-biotechnology re-search, capacity building, and plant breeding to enhance our participation in the global innovation sys-tems.
bulletWe urge policy makers to devise, adopt, and apply sound scientific principles leading to the formulation of the sensible and rational regulation of ag-biotechnology, which will accel-erate innovation and the realisation of biotechnology`s promise.

Africa

Continent Warms Up to Biotechnology
Ismail Serageldin And Calestous Juma, Business Daily (Nairobi) via AllAfrica.com, Nov. 14, 2007
http://allafrica.com/stories/200711140948.html

Much of the debate about biotechnology in Africa assumes that African countries are only being asked to accept products developed elsewhere. To the contrary, Freedom to Innovate: Biotechnology in Africa's Development shows that extensive biotechnology research is under way in Africa.

A study of 13 public institutions in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Egypt and South Africa showed that biotechnology applications have been performed on 21 crops.

In South Africa, for example, about 20 to 30 per cent of yellow maize and 80 per cent of cotton are now genetically modified varieties. An insect-resistant potato was developed in South Africa in 2001. The goal was to help small farmers to grow this on a commercial scale. The potatoes performed well in field trials but commercialisation has been delayed.

The first GM biotechnology product to be developed in Kenya was a virus-and weevil-resistant sweet potato. This project began in 1991. The sweet potato trials met some setbacks because it is believed that the construct for the virus resistance was not well tested and it did not perform well under field trials. In addition, KARI in partnership with the international maize laboratory CYMMIT in Mexico has been developing insect resistant transgenic maize. The maize was tested in field trials in May 2005.

Egypt has worked on more varieties of crops than any other country in Africa. The Genetic Engineering Services Unit (GESU) of the Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI) in Egypt has been actively involved in micropropagation of Satavia rebaudiana and mulberry, as well as the production of diagnostic kits for detecting viruses in banana, potato, tomato and beans.

Plant biotechnology research at AGERI also includes transferring genes that confer virus resistance, bacterial resistance, insect resistance, stress tolerance and fungal resistance on such crops as potato, cotton, maize, faba beans, cucurbits, wheat, banana and date palm.

Insect resistant potato is another of the major crops that have been worked on in Egypt by AGERI in partnership with Michigan State University in the USA. Several varieties of potato were transformed for potato tuber moth resistance including a widely grown Dutch variety in Egypt, Spunta. Spunta. The potato has not been commercialised because of trade concerns in the European Union over GM crops.

The Uganda National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) opened a new research laboratory in 2003 to conduct work on the genetic modification of banana. The goal was to insert genes that will confer resistance to Black Sigatoka and banana weevils.

Field trials on Bt cotton have been carried out in several countries including Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Tanzania and Burkina Faso have recently started field trials, while Mali was slated to start field trials in 2005. However, a cotton trial in Zambia has had to be halted because biosafety regulations were not ready at the time.

Drought-resistant maize trials to start soon
Hans Pienaar, The Star (South Africa), Oct. 22, 2007
http://www.int.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=143&art_id=vn20071022035128441C598013

Trials for a new drought-resistant gene to be used in genetically modified crops will start next month in various locations in South Africa, according to seed producers Monsanto.

The news comes as Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk warned in parliament that climate change would lead to a 20 percent reduction in the maize crop over the next 25 years. The "drought tolerance product" causes maize plants to make more efficient use of the water they get, as well as to "tolerate" the absence of water. At first, the gene will be bred into maize lines, but drought-tolerant soybeans and cotton are expected to be on the market "early in the next decade".

Egypt harvested Bt corn field trials.

In control the borer infestation was 78%, none in Bt. Ear weight compared to that of whole plant was 34% in control and 54% in Bt. More information by ismail@egypt-bic.com.

America

Scotts to pay $500,000 fine over biotech bentgrass
Christopher Doering, Reuters, Nov. 26, 2007
http://www.reuters.com/article/scienceNews/idUSN2643698720071127?feedType=RSS&feedName=scienceNews

Washington - Scotts Miracle-Gro Co will pay a $500,000 fine over allegations it failed to comply with U.S. rules while testing a genetically engineered grass variety that could one day be used on lawns and athletic fields, the Agriculture Department said on Monday. The settlement involves field tests in Oregon and 20 other states of creeping bentgrass modified to resist weed killers such as Monsanto Co's Roundup. A golf course, for example, could be sprayed to kill weeds without hurting the grass. Genetically engineered grasses have not been approved by USDA. The civil penalty is the largest allowed by the Plant Protection Act of 2000, according to the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Viňa del Mar Declaration
REDBIO 2007, Oct. 26, 2007
http://www.redbio.org/newsredbio.asp?id=391

  1. The 600 participants from 21 countries present at the VI Latin American and Caribbean Congress of Agricultural Biotechnology, REDBIO 2007, gathered in Vi?a del Mar, Chile, aware that agrobiotechnologies can be an important factor for the sustainable development, for food security, for environmental and social  well being, and for encouraging the future bio-economy, express their strong support for the use of agrobiotechnologies as an integral component for the development strategies for Latin America and the Caribbean.  These technologies have the capacity to provide healthy and safe food in sufficient quantity and facilitate agronomic practices that are more sustainable from an environmental and social perspective.
  2. They also recognize the value of a sensible regulatory framework that allows for the evaluation and the safe and effective use of agricultural biotechnology, including genetic engineering, and which reasonably ensures food safety and environmental sustainability.
  3. It is important to note that the experience accumulated during the first decade since the commercialization of products obtained through Modern Biotechnology on more than 100 million hectares in 21 countries, has scientifically demonstrated that crops obtained through these technologies do not have risk profiles that are any different from those of crops developed through other plant breeding methods.  The potential health and environmental risks originally foreseen have not materialized.  Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that this technology provides environmental and economic benefits.  Millions of farmers, mainly small farmers in developing countries, are already benefiting in other parts of the world.
  4. At the same time, the principles on which the current regulations are based were established when the commercial use of  transgenic crops was just beginning, and do not consider information gathered during more than 10 years of extensive use.  This lack of actualization contributes to delays in the development and use of Modern Biotechnology in Latin America and the Caribbean.  This in turn increases the technological gap that exists between this region and the more industrialized countries, and prevents the region from exercising sovereignty over its genetic resources.
  5. We note with concern that the continuous tendency towards excessive regulation is also slowing the development of our crops, and is keeping the advances made by Latin American researchers from benefiting society.  This excess in regulation increases costs and disproportionately affects the public and small enterprise sectors.
  6. Biotechnology in Latin America and the Caribbean continues to advance, and will continue to play an increasingly important role.  We are confident that it is possible to formulate regulatory frameworks targeted towards scientifically established risks and not towards perceived or theoretical ones, and thus help ensure environmental and food safety, while avoiding unnecessary hindrances in its development.
  7. We therefore request that the regulatory biosafety frameworks consider the history of safe use that transgenic crops have had in the world for over a decade.  It is especially important that norms in the region consider both the benefits and the risks of this technology, and analyze them relative to those of the present agricultural production systems.  In turn, regulatory frameworks should foster and facilitate innovation and technological applications that benefit our peoples.

Biotech Deaths in Brazil
Alex and Dennis Avery, The American Daily, Oct. 25, 2007
http://www.americandaily.com/article/20706

The conflict over high-yield farming became even uglier last week when armed activists "for the landless" invaded a Brazilian biotech research farm. One activist and a security guard were killed and eight other people injured.

Asia

Bt corn growers get government support in Philippine.
Farmers planting Bt cotton receiver from the Department of Agriculture P1,200/ha. Farmers growing Bt corn will be included in this programme as well.

India releases new biotechnology strategy
T. V. Padma, SciDev.net, Nov. 14, 2007
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=4056&language=1

India has launched a national biotechnology development strategy focusing on biotechnology's potential to provide long-term benefits for agriculture, health and the environment. The strategy, issued by science minister Kapil Sibal this week (13 November), includes a target for the biotechnology industry to generate US$7 billion by 2012, and the revamping of biotechnology education programmes to create global centres of educational and research excellence.

To achieve this target, Sibal said the country will boost funds for biotechnology by five-fold over the next five years, from 14,500 million Indian rupees (US$362 million) during 2002-2007 to 65,000 million Indian rupees (US$1.6 billion) by 2012. He said at the press briefing for the strategy that the funds will be used to "beef up" India's biotechnology infrastructure.

China

China ranks second in S&T publication rates
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=4066&language=1

China is now the world's second highest producer of science and technology research papers, according to statistics.

Other

NSW, Vic lift GM bans in landmark moves
ABC News (Australia), Nov. 27, 2007
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/11/27/2102585.htm

The Victorian and New South Wales governments have become the first in Australia to allow farmers to grow genetically-modified (GM) food crops.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald has announced the state is ending its four-year moratorium on GM canola crops, despite a last-minute plea from Western Australia and Tasmania to maintain the ban. Mr Macdonald says the move will put NSW farmers on a level playing field with overseas farmers because GM canola now accounts for 70 per cent of the global canola market. Victorian Premier John Brumby agrees there are great economic benefits. "You need to be able to compete and you need to be able to maximise your yields," he told farmers.

Mr Macdonald says NSW farmers will need to get approval from authorities before they plant the crops. "It is a cautious approach to this issue to balance the various stakeholder interests and concerns," he said. He says GM canola crops will be segregated to protect non-GM crops, but Biological Farmers Australia director Scott Kinnear has questioned the effectiveness of that strategy, saying the wind tends to carry GM seeds into non-GM areas. The Minister says strict labelling laws will be in place so people will know what they are eating. He says growing GM canola will have a positive impact on the environment because it reduces the need for pesticides, but NSW Greens MP Ian Cohen is strongly opposed to the move. "We really are moving into a new set of circumstances in agricultural production and consumption," he said. "It's going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to turn it back."

News in Science

New designer toxins kill Bt-resistant insect pests
PhysOrg.com, Nov. 1, 2007
http://www.physorg.com/news113146841.html

A new way to combat resistant pests stems from discovering how the widely used natural insecticide Bt kills insects. Figuring out how Bt toxins punch holes in the cells of an insect's gut was the key to designing the new toxins, according to a Mexico-U.S. research team. The discovery is based on understanding a receptor molecule called cadherin on the insects' gut membranes. Normal cadherin binds with the Bt toxin in a lock-and-key fashion. Resistant insects have genetic changes, mutations that change the lock. Their cadherin no longer takes the key. The UNAM team did an end-run around the resistant insects' strategy. The modified, or designer, toxins have that crucial bit already gone, so they clump and form the death-dealing pores. No cadherin needed.

The researchers have applied for a multinational patent for the designer toxins. UNAM is the lead organization in the patent. Combating Bt-resistant pests without using broad-spectrum insecticides can make agriculture safer for farm workers, better for the environment and more profitable for growers.

Crops That Shut Down Pests' Genes
By Katherine Bourzac

Researchers have created plants that kill insects by disrupting their gene expression. The crops, which initiate a gene-silencing response called RNA interference, are a step beyond existing genetically modified crops that produce toxic proteins. RNA interference occurs naturally in animals ranging from worms to humans. It's a process whereby double-stranded RNA copies of specific genes prevent cells from translating those genes into proteins. The new genetically modified plants carry genes for double-stranded RNA targeted to particular insect genes. In some insects, eating double-stranded RNA is enough to cause gene silencing. This is surprising: in previous research, RNA interfered with organisms' gene expression only when it was injected. Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Shanghai, made cotton plants that silence a gene that allows cotton bollworms to process the toxin gossypol, which occurs naturally in cotton. Bollworms that eat the genetically engineered cotton can't make their toxin-processing proteins, and they die.

But other researchers warn against jumping to that conclusion too soon. "RNA interference to control pests is an interesting idea, but it's important to understand the ecology," says Bernard Mathey-Prevot, director of the Drosophila (fruit fly) RNA Interference Screening Center at Harvard Medical School. "It's very hard to know in advance whether other insects might be targeted." In addition to killing nonpest insects, Mathey-Prevot says, the gene-silencing mechanism could spread between different species of plant, or from plants to other organisms, such as bacteria in the soil. Such spread might be harmless, but then again, it might not. "We need to understand it a little bit more," Mathey-Prevot says. But to prove conclusive, researchers say, such testing would have to be arduous. "You would have to anticipate all the species you wouldn't want it to affect" and then test them, says David Root, project leader of the RNA Interference Consortium at the Broad Institute, Harvard and MIT's jointly operated center for research on genomic medicine. And Gordon anticipates that regulatory agencies will demand broad screening.

Although humans have genes similar to insect genes, researchers say that it is highly unlikely that ingesting Monsanto's corn would cause gene silencing in people. "If you fed tons of it to a mouse, I don't think you'd get anywhere," says Root. RNA "just gets digested" by mice and humans.

Cut down N-fertilizers?
High Plains Journal, Nov. 7, 2007
http://www.hpj.com/archives/2007/nov07/nov5/Farmeranxiouslyawaitsanswer.cfm

Nitrogen fertilizer comes in different forms, including urea and anhydrous ammonia. Urea which cost $220/ton in the fall of 2003 is now $400/ton, about an 85 percent increase in price. Anhydrous in the fall of 2003 was $340/ton, now it's about $550/ton, a price increase of about 60 percent. Ammonia prices paid by farmers increased 130 percent from 2000 to 2006, according to USDA. Prices aren't expected to get any better, with supply/demand for fertilizer and natural gas (a key fertilizer ingredient) expected to remain high. Monsanto is developing corn that will yield better under normal nitrogen conditions, or to stabilize yield in low nitrogen environments. Last year, the company's nitrogen trials demonstrated a 5 to 15 percent yield increase across limited nitrogen environments. Across three locations in Illinois and Iowa in 2006, Monsanto's lead N-utilization gene showed no yield drop off as the N application levels decreased from 180 pounds per acre to 40 pounds per acre. Just recently, Monsanto and a company called Evogene announced a collaboration to improve nitrogen use efficiency in corn, soybeans, canola and cotton.

DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred also is developing corn with enhanced nitrogen use efficiency, allowing farmers to reduce input costs per bushel of corn produced, while reducing the environmental impact of nitrogen fertilizer production use.

There is public research as well to discover genes associated with nitrogen use efficiency. Background on one project at the University of Illinois looking at "NitroGenes" can be found online at http://nitrogenes.cropsci.uiuc.edu.

Are N-fixing cereal crops a pipedream? Maybe not. Nature last year reported efforts of researchers in the UK and Denmark to genetically engineer plants to produce root nodules in the absence of rhizobia. The intent is crops that would not need to be treated with nitrogen fertilizer, instead relying on natural bacteria in the soil to colonize N-fixing nodules. Research on N-fixing crops is in its infancy, while commercialization of nitrogen-use efficient corn is nearing reality. All in all, this research and development represents what might eventually be one of the most significant breakthroughs in the history of agriculture.

New GM cassava in the offing
Commodity Online, Nov. 6, 2007
http://www.commodityonline.com/news/topstory/newsdetails.php?id=3521

COIMBATORE: A new virus-resistant cassava variety is in the offing. Rasi Seeds Private Ltd and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) have joined hands to develop transgenic cassava resistant to mosaic virus.

Enhanced tolerance of transgenic potato plants overexpressing nucleoside diphosphate kinase 2 against multiple environmental stresses
Transgenic Research, 0962-8819 (Print) 1573-9368 (Online), DOI 10.1007/s11248-007-9155-2, Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Li Tang, Myoung Duck Kim, Kyoung-Sil Yang, Suk-Yoon Kwon, Sun-Hyung Kim, Jin-Seog Kim, Dae-Jin Yun, Sang-Soo Kwak and Haeng-Soon Lee,

Environmental Biotechnology Research Center, Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology, 52 Eoeun-dong, Yuseong-gu, Daejeon, 305–806, Korea

Abstract  In plants, nucleoside diphosphate kinase 2 (NDPK2) is known to regulate the expression of antioxidant genes. In this study, we developed transgenic potato plants (Solanum tuberosum L. cv. Atlantic) expressing Arabidopsis NDPK2 (AtNDPK2) gene in cytosols under the control of an oxidative stress-inducible SWPA2 promoter (referred to as SN plants) or enhanced CaMV 35S promoter (EN plants) and evaluated their tolerance to various environmental stress, including methyl viologen (MV)-mediated oxidative stress, high temperature, and salt stress. When 250 ?M MV was sprayed to whole plants, plants expressing NDPK2 showed significantly an enhanced tolerance compared to non-transgenic (NT) plants. SN plants and EN plants showed 51% and 32% less visible damage than NT plants, respectively. Transcript level of AtNDPK2 gene and NDPK2 activity in SN plants following MV treatment well reflected the plant phenotype. Ascorbate peroxidase (APX) activity was also increased in MV-treated SN plants. In addition, SN plants showed enhanced tolerance to high temperature at 42°C. The photosynthetic activity of SN plants after treatment of high temperature was decreased by about 10% compared to the plants grown at 25°C, whereas that of NT plants declined by 30%. When treated with 80 mM NaCl onto the plantlets, both SN plants and EN plants also showed a significant reduced damage in root growth. These results indicate that overexpression of NDPK2 under the stress-inducible SWPA2 promoter might efficiently regulate the oxidative stress derived from various environmental stresses.

Scorpion Toxin Makes Fungus Deadly to Insect Pests
Fungus injected with deadly scorpion toxin can kill mosquitoes quickly.
PhysOrg.com, Nov. 12, 2007
http://www.physorg.com/news114104228.html

University of Maryland entomology professor Raymond St. Leger has discovered how to use scorpion genes to create a hypervirulent fungus that can kill specific insect pests, including mosquitoes that carry malaria and a beetle that destroys coffee crops, but does not contaminate the environment as chemical pesticides do.

In the November issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology, St. Leger and Chengshu Wang, a colleague from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, describe how they were able to bioengineer a new version of the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae to inject specific insects with the scorpion toxin Androctonus australis insect neurotoxin (AaIT ), and kill them within a few days.

The naturally occurring M. anisopliae fungus and other strains like it are already being used to control agricultural pests and mosquitoes, but their effectiveness has been limited in comparison to chemical pesticides. Unlike chemical pesticides, these altered fungi can be used to target specific insects and do not pose a threat to the environment.

In Australia, the fungus is sprayed from airplanes to target locusts and grasshoppers that decimate food crops. In Africa, the spores of the M. anisopliae fungus are put on sheets and hung inside houses to kill mosquitoes. "The problem is it takes quite a few fungal spores to kill the mosquito, and it is slow," says St. Leger. "It reduces the number of mosquito bites that people get, but it doesn't keep people from getting malaria or dengue. We're trying to get a supercharged, hypervirulent fungus that will take out the mosquitoes quickly."

To produce the insect-killing fungus, St. Leger created a synthetic scorpion gene which he inserted into the M. anisopliae fungus. He also had to create what he calls an "on/off switch" in front of the gene so the fungus will produce the scorpion toxin only when it is in the blood of the insect. "The fungus will never produce it under any other circumstances.“

St. Leger tested the infectivity of the transgenic fungus against mosquitoes, caterpillars and the coffee borer beetle. It was nine times more virulent than the wild M. anisopliae in killing mosquitoes, 22 times more virulent to caterpillars, and 30 times more virulent to the coffee borer beetle.

Researchers successfully simulate photosynthesis and design a better leaf
University of Illinois/Champaign (press release), Nov. 11, 2007
http://www.news.uiuc.edu/news/07/1109photosynthesis.html

CHAMPAIGN, Ill.  -  University of Illinois researchers have built a better plant, one that produces more leaves and fruit without needing extra fertilizer. The researchers accomplished the feat using a computer model that mimics the process of evolution. Theirs is the first model to simulate every step of the photosynthetic process.

The research findings appear in the October issue of Plant Physiology, and will be presented today at the BIO-Asia 2007 Conference in Bangkok, Thailand. The research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The researchers first had to build a reliable model of photosynthesis, one that would accurately mimic the photosynthetic response to changes in the environment. This formidable task relied on the computational resources available at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

Xin-Guang Zhu, a research scientist at the center and in plant biology, worked with Long and Eric de Sturler, formerly a specialist in computational mathematics in computer sciences at Illinois, to realize this model.
After determining the relative abundance of each of the proteins involved in photosynthesis, the researchers created a series of linked differential equations, each mimicking a single photosynthetic step. The team tested and adjusted the model until it successfully predicted the outcome of experiments conducted on real leaves, including their dynamic response to environmental variation.

The researchers then programmed the model to randomly alter levels of individual enzymes in the photosynthetic process. Using "evolutionary algorithms," which mimic evolution by selecting for desirable traits, the model hunted for enzymes that - if increased - would enhance plant productivity. If higher concentrations of an enzyme relative to others improved photosynthetic efficiency, the model used the results of that experiment as a parent for the next generation of tests.

This process identified several proteins that could, if present in higher concentrations relative to others, greatly enhance the productivity of the plant. The new findings are consistent with results from other researchers, who found that increases in one of these proteins in transgenic plants increased productivity.

Mushrooms may aid rapid vaccine response
Biology News Net, Nov. 19, 2007
http://www.biologynews.net/archives/2007/11/19/mushrooms_may_aid_rapid_vaccine_response.html

A rapid production of therapeutic human drugs using modified mushrooms may help mount a quicker response to various public health problems, according to plant pathologists who have received a federal grant to perfect their technique. C. Peter Romaine, professor of plant pathology at Penn State and holder of the John B. Swayne Chair in Spawn Science and his colleague, Xi Chen hold the patent to genetically modify Agaricus bisporus - the button variety of mushroom, which is the predominant edible species worldwide. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently awarded Penn State and Agarigen Inc., Romaine's spin-off company based in Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, N.C., $2.2 million in initial funding under the Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals (AMP) program for the rapid production of vaccines and other therapeutic proteins in altered mushrooms. The total value of the effort, if both phases of the development program are completed, could be up to $5.9 million.

Phytoremediation of Mercury and Organomercurials in Chloroplast Transgenic Plants: Enhanced Root Uptake, Translocation to Shoots, and Volatilization
Hussein S. Hussein, et. al., ASAP Environ. Sci. Technol., ASAP Article, 10.1021/es070908q, web posted Nov. 20, 2007
http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/esthag/asap/abs/es070908q.html

Abstract:

Transgenic tobacco plants engineered with bacterial merA and merB genes via the chloroplast genome were investigated to study the uptake, translocation of different forms of mercury (Hg) from roots to shoots, and their volatilization. Untransformed plants, regardless of the form of Hg supplied, reached a saturation point at 200 µM of phenylmercuric acetate (PMA) or HgCl2, accumulating Hg concentrations up to 500 µg g-1 with significant reduction in growth. In contrast, chloroplast transgenic lines continued to grow well with Hg concentrations in root tissues up to 2000 µg g-1. Chloroplast transgenic lines accumulated both the organic and inorganic Hg forms to levels surpassing the concentrations found in the soil. The organic-Hg form was absorbed and translocated more efficiently than the inorganic-Hg form in transgenic lines, whereas no such difference was observed in untransformed plants. Chloroplast-transgenic lines showed about 100-fold increase in the efficiency of Hg accumulation in shoots compared to untransformed plants. This is the first report of such high levels of Hg accumulation in green leaves or tissues. Transgenic plants attained a maximum rate of elemental-Hg volatilization in two days when supplied with PMA and in three days when supplied with inorganic-Hg, attaining complete volatilization within a week. The combined expression of merAB via the chloroplast genome enhanced conversion of Hg2+ into Hg,0 conferred tolerance by rapid volatilization and increased uptake of different forms of mercury, surpassing the concentrations found in the soil. These investigations provide novel insights for improvement of plant tolerance and detoxification of mercury.

Full text in html: http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/asap.cgi/esthag/asap/html/es070908q.html
Full text in pdf: http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/asap.cgi/esthag/asap/pdf/es070908q.pdf

Fighting obesity in Europe

The World Health Organization (WHO) has named obesity as one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century. In Europe alone, its frequency has trebled since the 1980s, and the numbers of those affected continue to rise at an alarming rate, particularly among children.

Scientists link weight gain with breast cancer risk

A potential link between food consumption and cancer risk has driven researchers over the years to work at getting some answers. Now experts have discovered a connection between being overweight and the chances of developing breast cancer, leading to increased evidence that the food we eat and our lifestyle choices have a huge influence on what illnesses we are likely to develop.

New report links Alzheimer’s to stress

A report about to be published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry says that the development of Alzheimer’s disease may be directly linked to stress.

HEATOX project completed – brings new pieces to the Acrylamide Puzzle

Acrylamide formation in heated food became a totally new research field, when its presence in various foods was revealed in 2002. The EU Commission reacted swiftly and in DG Research Framework Programme 6 (FP6) a strategic targeted research project, HEATOX, was established. The three-year project included 24 partners from 14 countries, mostly universities and research institutes, but also authorities and a European consumer organisation.

EU-funded scientists decode proteins with potential for new medicines

An EU-funded research team, working with scientists at Stanford University in the US and the European synchrotron radiation facility in Grenoble, is the first to determine the structure of a specific membrane protein, known as "recombinant G protein-coupled receptor".

European ecologists uncover biological arms race amongst the willows

One of the key challenges facing biological research is to understand how complex food webs are assembled and maintained. European researchers have recently investigated how sawflies have evolved to escape their parasitoids (i.e. parasites that lead to the host’s death) and achieve for themselves an ‘enemy-free space for millions of years.

Yeast cells gives clues to human biology and disease

The first quantitative study of protein complexes that communicate pheromone signals in living yeast cells gives a valuable insight into a crucial signalling process also found in humans.

Patents

Regulated gene expression in plants

Publication Date: 23.10.2007 Assignee: Gendaq Limited (London, GB) The Rockefeller University (New York, NY)
Patent Number: 7,285,416 Published by: United States Patent Office
Abstract: A method is provided of regulating transcription in a plant cell from a DNA sequence comprising a target DNA operably linked to a coding sequence, which method comprises introducing an engineered zinc finger polypeptide in said plant cell which polypeptide binds to the target DNA and modulates transcription of the coding sequence.

Cyanobacterial nucleic acid fragments encoding proteins useful for controlling plant traits via nuclear or plastome transformation

Publication Date: 23.10.2007 Assignee: BASF Plant Science GmbH (NC)
Patent Number: 7,285,701 Published by: United States Patent Office
Abstract: The invention provides cyanobacteria as an alternative source of ahas and pds genes for plant transformations and for selectable markers.

Liquid MycorrizalY Inoculant

Publication Date: 03.10.2007 Assignee: Inst Nac de Ciencias Agricolas (CU)
Publication Number: EP1840110 (A1) Published by: European Patent Office
Abstract: The technical solution proposed is related with agriculture, soil biotechnology, and specifically with the production and application of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, a microorganism that improves the efficiency of plant nutrient absorption, water level, vegetable production, protection against some root diseases, etc.

Biogenerator constructed using live cell cultures

Publication Date: 25.10.2007 Applicant: The Regents of the University of Colorado (US); Levinson Simon (US); Bango Joseph (US)
Publication Number: WO/2007/121359 Published by: WIPO
Abstract: An apparatus (or a biogenerator) is disclosed which utilizes the electrochemical polarization of epithelial cells to generate electricity. The apparatus employs living cells to convert chemical energy into electricity.
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